Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Quick Hit: Help Me Name My Next Project

Dear Museum 2.0 readers,

I need your help. As some of you know, I'm working on a project to open an experimental cafe in Santa Cruz that serves craft beer, Belgian frites, and intriguing encounters with strangers. The concept is to combine the work I've been doing developing interactive settings for participation with a venue that people naturally visit seeking an exciting social experience.

The cafe will also be an R&D innovation lab for the cultural sector. The team will work on risky experiments and share what we learn with the field, through publications, workshops, and hopefully, some more contract work. We'll be working on experiments in customer loyalty, levels of creative and civic participation, and promoting new connections among people from different backgrounds.

To be more specific, here are a few of the kinds of things we're thinking of trying:
  • Object of My Affection – an exhibit of customers’ favorite things and the stories behind them. This exhibit may feature monthly object swaps in which the artifacts are redistributed to the lenders.
  • Stranger Encounters – an exhibit of stories of surprising encounters customers have had with strangers. The best of these will be illustrated and hung permanently throughout the café.
  • Fort City – a set of reconfigurable materials and simple tools for people to build, tear down, and rebuild forts. There may be occasional “storm the fort” raids or fort tea parties (featuring beer).
  • Repair – a staffed space in which customers can bring in broken things and help each other fix them. Broken items may range from clothes that need mending to toys that can be modified and improved.
  • People Watching Portraits – customers can choose to either be drawers or models (models will wear a button or badge on the bracelet to indicate interest). Drawers receive clipboards or easels and are encouraged to people watch and draw others. They may ask models directly to pose for the in more structured encounters.
  • Potato Claw – a pay-to-play arcade-style claw pickup game in which people try to pick up a potato with the metal claw. If they succeed, they get free fries made out of that potato.

Here's the challenge: I need to settle on a final name for the cafe. I'm close to the point where I'll start seeking investment, and I need to have a name for the business plan, the bank, and the IRS. Got a great idea? Share it here.

For the past few months, I've had a name for the project: The Stranger Cafe. I like it. It's descriptive, a bit subversive, and it can lend to some fun programs that play on the dual meaning of stranger as an adjective and a noun (i.e. Stranger Science Fair, Dancing with Strangers).

But some people don't like it, and there's at least one strong argument against it: it emphasizes the negative instead of the positive. The basic idea of the cafe is "you enter as a stranger but leave as a friend or at least a friendly acquaintance." From that perspective, we should be calling it The Friendly Cafe, but that's REALLY dorky. Other names that emphasize interactivity are, to my mind, equally goofy.

Avoiding the dork factor is important, because the cafe will tread a very thin line between awesomeness and gimmick depending on how we design, brand, and staff it. Manufactured community doesn't work. I'm designing the cafe as self-consciously as possible to make sure that the overall feel is casual, welcoming, and open to genuine customer involvement.

A couple other naming notes:
  • I'm leaning towards "cafe" instead of "bar" because this will be a family-friendly place at least some of the time.
  • While making, crafting, experimenting, and exhibiting will all be part of the experience, the thread that ties it all together is the idea of promoting social engagement with new people.
  • The social experience is more important than the menu - so a name that focuses exclusively on the beer + fries combo is not as appealing.

So what do you think? If you'd like to weigh in on the name game, please do so here. You can also just check out the names so far and vote or comment on them. If you come up with THE name I go with, I'll find some delightful way to honor you in the cafe itself when it opens (and the beer and fries are on me!).

And if you have any other ideas or want to know more about the project, please leave a comment. There are lots of potential ways to get involved, especially if you have some experience in restaurant design, raising capital for experimental cultural projects, or beer.
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